Dialogue in Light

The architects at SsD open up the gallery experience in South Korea.


Gallery White Block
72 Heyrimaeul-gil, Tanhyun-myun
(82) 31-992-4400

Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do,
South Korea

Originally created in 1997 for the publishing industry, the Heyri Art Valley, outside Seoul, has slowly become a community of more than 370 creators and artists, replete with galleries, studios, bookstores, and theaters. As part of a master plan that mandated eco-friendly features and strict preservation of the geographic context of the area, leading local designers were invited to shape the valley into a giant architectural showcase.

In 2009, Jinhee Park and John Hong of SsD, a design group based in Seoul, New York City, and Boston, won a competition to create an art gallery at the heart of this village. Gallery White Block, completed last May, is an airy glass box that stands in stark contrast to the predominantly concrete structures around it.

“The building is an arrangement of clear and opaque boxes,” Park explains, which uses an “open monumental concept.” SsD worked with the Boston-based engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger to devise “wallumns”—structural combinations of walls and columns. By eliminating the emphasis on corners, Park and Hong enabled the transitions to become very clean. “It’s interesting what a column can do in terms of destroying the quality of a space,” Hong says.

The gallery’s relationship with the outside is manifest in vistas of the surrounding mountains, foggily visible through a parametric frit pattern on the glass walls. The frit doubles as an energy-saving feature. In the summer, as the pear trees surrounding the building grow leaves, the pattern works with them to form a natural shading system that moderates the gallery’s temperature. In the winter, the loss of foliage allows sun and warmth back into the space.

Each of the ten display areas inside has its own unique proportions and lighting conditions, which respond to the lay of the land. “They can almost be thought of as different pavilions,” Park says. “We wanted to change the typical atmosphere of these exhibition spaces where you enter and have this completely segregated experience that is also isolated from the outside.” Thanks to exposed stairwells and passageways, the effect is not of a building with three distinct floors, but of galleries that unravel and layer upon each other. The spaces seem to converse with one another through the circulation system, so that one can view the art from a number of angles and even from different zones.

Gallery White Block is distinct in its adherence to openness, transparency, and responsiveness to the landscape. SsD has addressed the traditional aspects of sustainability, but “instead of focusing on energy and atmosphere,” Hong says, “we can actually look at more integrated methods. Sustainability is not just a technical idea about energy saving but more an idea that can shape and create new kinds of spaces to transform lifestyles.”

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